Digitalization of Fire Safety: Developing Webtools to Aid the Fire Safety Engineer

Melchior Schepers + Xavier Deckers

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Aug 26, 2022

Quality assurance is a key factor in any engineering project. A lack of quality assurance and error-checking can easily lead to engineering mistakes. Moreover, even if we are able to model physical reality to exceptional levels of detail, the models still contain explicit and implicit assumptions that can have a major impact on the results. Limitations on the outcome of a calculation thus rely heavily on the assumptions of the software, the user and their inputs.

In Fire Safety Engineering, the prescriptive and performance-based approaches have always been heavily dependent on computational modeling. Jensen Hughes has developed two webtools to help fire safety engineers in their daily work processes by streamlining parameter selection and entry and incorporating error-checking in every step of the calculation. The tools aim to provide an efficient and more resilient approach to fire safety design processes than the current practices.

Smoke and Heat Control Standards

The first webtool developed by Jensen Hughes focuses on the implementation of BR 368 and the Belgian equivalent NBN S21-208-1. Smoke and heat control systems (SHC) enable safe passage for evacuees when a fire breaks out in a building. The BR 368 Design Methodologies for Smoke and Heat Exhaust Ventilation Standard is a well-known reference for designing such SHC systems. In Belgium, the basic design of these systems is set out in the NBN S21-208-1, outlining the calculation procedure to be followed.

Experience shows that the calculation steps set out in these standards are often implemented in a spreadsheet, making them error-prone and tedious to employ. Additionally, the iterative nature of these calculations makes it hard to optimize towards different parameters. Implementing these procedures in a web environment makes them much more accessible and user-friendly.

Other advantages include real-time error-checking and changing different parameters on the fly. The webtool is coupled with an automated report generator, providing the user with an efficient way of reporting the parameters and results. However, the user should be aware of the inherent limitations of the implemented method and is encouraged to check the limitations through the provided guide or the standard itself.

Fire Dynamics Simulator Code Facilitator

The second webtool developed by Jensen Hughes focuses on the Fire Dynamics Simulator (FDS). This tool provides an extra layer of quality assurance, enabling users to write and check FDS code. Developed by the U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), the FDS is one of the most-used computational fluid dynamics tools in the fire safety engineering community. Unfortunately, the correct usage of FDS and its intricacies are not something all fire safety engineers are acquainted with and is usually reserved for a handful of experts within a company.

The webtool aims to facilitate the interaction of FDS experts and other fire safety engineers as well as perform a first automatic quality assurance check. It allows the user to select the relevant technical guideline to be applied (e.g., Belgian best practices for car parks, UK accepted values for fire and smoke parameters) and automatically creates a template of FDS code, which can then further be altered or supplemented with additional FDS code.

The webtool also includes a built-in code validator, allowing the responsible quality assessor to validate the FDS code before starting the simulation. This enables in-house teams to make a first assessment as to whether there are obvious contradictions or errors in their code. Furthermore, it provides authorities having jurisdiction and notified bodies with the ability to check if the simulation respects the basic requirements of a correct FDS simulation.

These webtools, along with others currently in development, can help fire safety engineers achieve more efficiency and accuracy in both calculation procedures and reporting. As a result, clients benefit from faster turnaround times, which can lead to the possibility of assessing more design options. There also is less chance for error due to automatic error-checking.

Click here to learn more about Jensen Hughes’ fire and smoke control modeling solutions.